AROUND THE NFL

NFC NORTH

 

DETROIT

The Lions “almost” had a chance to hire a respected Hall of Fame coach.  But then 30 seconds passed, and Tony Dungy was back to being retired.  Peter King:

 

On missing his old life, embracing his new one, and whether anything would make him go back to coaching:

 

“No, no, no, no! The closest I came was a few years back. [Detroit GM] Martin Mayhew was asking about Jim Caldwell for their coaching opening. We talked, and he said, ‘I know you’re from here, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you if there was any interest.’ I said Martin, if my dad was still alive—the biggest Lions fan in the world, I grew up in that area—it would’ve been a thrill to coach the Lions. You know, maybe at another time I’d have been ready to do it. But that was the closest I got to even thinking about it. That was only a 30-second thought.

 

“Life is good for me. It’s different in that during the week, I have a lot of freedom. I can make choices as to what to do. I’m still involved with football. The weekends are pretty much the same as they’ve always been—all football. I just have so much more flexibility during the week, during the offseason, to do things with the family, go around the country and see things. I miss the game. I miss the sidelines. I miss those relationships. But I wouldn’t change this part for anything

 

 

GREEN BAY

Coach Matt LaFleur tells Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com that he is letting QB AARON RODGERS do his thing:

 

The Packers have come a long way from the “audible thing.”

 

That was the disagreement between new coach and veteran quarterback that, while arguably overblown in the perception of the participants, became a thing because it became public. Fifteen weeks into the season, it’s definitely not a thing.

 

“I have full trust in Aaron [Rodgers],” Packers coach and coach of the year candidate Matt LaFleur told PFT by phone after Sunday’s 21-13 win over the Bears. LaFleur made it clear that, despite the theoretical construction of his offense, Rodgers has a blank check to call whatever audible he chooses, whenever he wants.

 

“He’s seen enough during his career,” LaFleur said. “I trust he’ll make the right call.”

 

LaFleur pointed to Green Bay’s first touchdown of the game. Facing fourth and four from the Chicago 29, the coach had called a play that would have gotten the four yards, moved the chains, and extended the drive. Rodgers saw something that made him think a longer throw to receiver Davante Adams would work, so Rodgers switched to it — and it defintely worked.

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

The Cowboys won the opening toss, and QB DAK PRESCOTT, in the role of vocal captain, took awhile to say “Defer.” 

 

Then all heck has broken out in the officiating world when Al Riveron decided to get officious. Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com:

 

The NFL officiating department stepped in Sunday to reverse the team set for the second-half kickoff in Sunday’s game between the Los Angeles Rams and Dallas Cowboys, an unusual move that corrected a mistake made during the pregame coin toss.

 

After the Cowboys won the toss, quarterback Dak Prescott first told referee Walt Anderson that “we want to kick it,” but then followed up with: “We defer to the second half.”

 

Anderson replied, “You’re going to kick,” meaning the Cowboys had used their choice to kick off rather than to defer. The Cowboys kicked off to start the game and were set to kick off again to open the second half. At halftime, however, Anderson informed both teams that the NFL office in New York City had heard Prescott’s request to “defer” and that it should be honored.

 

According to the NFL, the league office was authorized to step in under Rule 15, Section 3, Article 9 of its rulebook. It states: “The replay official and designated members of the officiating department may consult with on-field officials, or conduct a replay review, of game administration issues, including: (a) penalty enforcement; (b) the proper down; (c) spot of a foul; and (d) the game clock.”

 

“It says that we can get involved, replay can, as far as game-administration issues: downs, enforcements, things like that,” NFL senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron said. “So, by rule, we can get involved. This is a game-administration issue, not a judgment call, for example. And we have definite audio that refers to deferring.”

 

Riveron said Anderson might not have heard Prescott.

 

“Definitely a weird start,” Prescott said after his team won in a rout, 44-21. “We wanted to set adversity there instead of on the field, so we could play from behind immediately. Just bad use of words by me. We listened to the audio. We got it figured out. Just wasn’t the cleanest coin flip I’ve been a part of.”

 

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Prescott told him he used the word “defer” after Dallas won the toss, “so we felt like we had a case there.

 

“They needed to kind of hear it, and then I actually was coming in the locker room and [Fox Sports reporter] Erin Andrews made me aware that there was some audio that they were going to refer back to.”

 

Rams coach Sean McVay said he immediately tried to get clarification from the referees after the initial kickoff.

 

“We were under the impression that we were going to be able to receive the second-half kick, as well,” McVay said.

 

Quarterback Jared Goff said the Rams had been told they were going to get the ball in the second half, “and then it changed when we were out there.”

 

“I don’t know how or why or what happened, but we had talked to the referees the whole game in the first half, and we were told we were going to get it in the second half,” Goff said. “I don’t think that would have changed much at that point in the game.”

 

Ben Austro of FootballZebras.com thinks this is a Pandora’s box that the NFL will regret opening.

 

It’s a philosophical choice. Do we skirt or out-and-out break the rules to make sure the common sense thing happens, or do we enforce the rules and make a stupid mistake have a consequence to the team who committed the stupid mistake?

 

The Rams lost the coin toss, and quarterback Dak Prescott had to select the Cowboys option for the first half. There are two options, noted in the book as “privileges”:

 

Receive or kick

Which goal to defend

 

Because they won the toss, they are allowed to either defer their first choice of privileges to the second half, or declare an option #1 or #2 for the first half. The rule on the coin flip options is the same at all levels of football, and the option to select “kick” is older than the NFL itself. The defer option was added to the NFL rules in 2008.

 

The choice from Prescott did not go smoothly. The exchange with referee Walt Anderson went this way.

 

Prescott: We want to play defense. We want to kick it. Kicking it that way.

 

Anderson: You want to kick.

 

Prescott: We defer to the second half.

 

Anderson: Okay, you’re gonna kick.

 

By doing so, the Cowboys were resigned to the fact that they would kick off both halves. This is reminiscent of the Abner Haynes in the 1962 AFL championship game, where he famously said “we’ll kick to the clock.” Referee Harold Bourne accepted the word kick without regard to field position.

 

In this case Prescott clearly said kick twice, even though he added “that way” on his second utterance. But the rule is clear and unambiguous. The captain’s first choice cannot be changed, under Rule 4-2-2:

 

A captain’s first choice from any alternative privileges listed above is final and not subject to change.

 

Obviously, what Prescott wanted to do, by any measure of strategy, is “defer.” This means the Rams get the first choice of #1 or #2 for the first half, and the Cowboys get first choice at the second half. Basically, it is reversing the result of the coin toss to get the choice after halftime. But, Prescott said he would kick, which is Option #1. That gives the Rams the #2 choice in the first half. Rams will then have first choice in the second half, and likely will elect to receive. The Cowboys won the toss, and have the honor of kicking off for both halves!

 

Or so we thought.

 

Senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron used very questionable reasoning to intervene and give the Cowboys the ball in the second half. (We only know that centralized replay intervened, and a decision of this magnitude would be made by Riveron and not one of the replay deputies. We do not know if Riveron was pressured by someone else above him.) Rams coach Sean McVay was unaware of this reversal when the team emerged for the second half, according to Fox Sports reporter Erin Andrews, which obviously disadvantages the Rams halftime strategy. This is an extraordinary use of powers that he doesn’t even have and sets a dangerous precedent in Riveron’s ability to insert himself into the game.

 

As relayed on the game broadcast by Mike Pereira, the rules analyst who once had Riveron’s position, Riveron used the following justification that the coin flip is a “game administration” aspect, as listed under Rule 15-3-9:

 

The Replay Official and designated members of the Officiating department may consult with on-field officials, or conduct a replay review, of game administration issues, including: (a) penalty enforcement; (b) the proper down; (c) spot of a foul; and (d) the game clock.

 

This is a marginal opening for Riveron, but one that’s loosely parallel to the unwritten procedure that allows replay to get involved in spotting aggressors in fights that occur during pregame warmups. However, the authority of replay comes to an end once a play has been run. Not only is this egregious exercise of authority not supported by the rules, but it leaves the league in a precarious position, long after Riveron leaves his post, of having the ability to retroactively apply judgment.

 

What happens when a crew drops a down, and it’s not discovered until three plays later?

 

What if there should be time left on the clock on the next-to-last down of the game?

 

How much pine tar was on that bat?

 

What happens when in a conference championship game — ?

 

Anderson was correct to take the clear choice of kick, although in the case of Haynes, a case can be made that “we’ll kick to the clock” is not a valid choice, since it presents two answers. Literally, the word kick came first for Haynes, which is what the referee went with on that day. Here, Prescott said he would kick, then kick in a direction, then defer after questioned by the referee. Even though the first choice is irrevocable, should a referee exercise preventative officiating and clarify an unusual choice? If a referee is placed in a position to make these decisions, should his boss parachute into the game and make an apparent equity decision that actually creates other inequities?

 

All of the above considered, the game finished without Riveron commenting through a press release or tweet how or why this change was made. This is completely unacceptable, and exceeds the poor decision to remain silent following the 2018 NFC Conference Championship controversy. In the fourth quarter of the Sunday night game, the NFL released the pool report that Riveron conducted with Calvin Watkins of the Dallas Morning News. Riveron did not address the irrevocability of the first choice nor when he interceded in reversing the coin-toss option.

 

But Peter King backs up Riveron:

 

Now as for the coin flip controversy in Dallas, these are the facts: At some point during the pregame coin flip, Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott said the word “defer,” but then twice he said Dallas wanted to kick off, and ref Walt Anderson said he never heard the word “defer” from Prescott. Thus, Dallas kicked off at the start of the game, and was slated to kick off at the start of the second half because Anderson said he thought Prescott never said “defer” the choice to the start of the second half. (That means the other team can receive at the start of the second half.) FOX audio did have Prescott, in pre-game, saying “defer,” and after it was analyzed at halftime, the New York command center and Anderson changed to Dallas receiving the second-half kickoff. I see no problem with the league getting it right, even if it’s an odd use of officials using replay for resolution of administrative issues.

– – –

Terez Paylor of YahooSports.com isn’t impressed by the Cowboys win:

 

Although it’s tempting to praise them for an inspired effort, considering the wealth of talent on this roster, it’s long overdue. Entering this contest, Dallas was 0-6 against teams above .500, and the Cowboys were also coming off 10 days’ rest. Playing good, tough, football with enthusiasm, especially with a division title and a home playoff game within reach thanks to the fact they play in a historically putrid NFC East this year, was the bare minimum for what was expected Sunday. Especially considering that Dallas pulled from the “Nobody-Believed-In-Us” well for this one.

 

You can blame Vegas for that. The Cowboys were 1.5-point home underdogs Sunday because the Rams (8-6), who were winners of two straight entering the contest, were erroneously thought to be back by many.

 

On the surface, it’s easy to understand why. Following a rough start to the season, coach Sean McVay’s group got back to emphasizing their ground game and utilizing play-action off that, their bread-and-butter during their Super Bowl run last season. Aside from an ugly 45-6 home loss to the Baltimore Ravens last month, they’ve played well enough to win five of their previous seven games

 

However, these are not the 2018 Rams, and this year’s group probably isn’t playoff-worthy, despite its winning record. Last season’s team was much better along the interior offensive line and they were also more adept at protecting Goff and dominating the line of scrimmage in the run game. Since Goff lacks the creativity of a Patrick Mahomes or Aaron Rodgers, that’s a big deal. Goff needs both those things operating at peak efficiency to rip up teams the way he did last year, and when they’re not as they weren’t Sunday, the Rams are deeply flawed and eminently beatable.

 

So, yes, while the Cowboys get credit for bottling up the Rams’ run game Sunday — Los Angeles rushed only 14 times for 22 yards — they shouldn’t get a merit badge for that, even though it feels good for Dallas after the Rams rushed for a playoff-record 273 yards in a 30-22 divisional-round win over the Cowboys last season.

 

Again, these aren’t the same Rams. Not only do they have two new starters on the offensive line, they also feature a slightly less productive Todd Gurley in the backfield, a star who is averaging nearly a full yard less per carry (4.1) than he did a year ago.

 

So if Dallas wants to earn some respect, they need to go on the road next weekend and topple a charged up (and sorta-surging) Philadelphia Eagles team that enters with a matching 7-7 record, has won its past two games and feature a suddenly hot Carson Wentz, who is capable of making the second-reaction throws the quarterback they just beat isn’t. If the Cowboys win in Philadelphia, they’ll clinch the NFC East for the second straight season.

 

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

Peter King with an ELI MANNING update:

 

After the Giants beat Miami with Manning starting for perhaps the last time in his career, he hugged his family on the field as the shutters clicked. When he got the game ball, he turned wistful: “There’s not a better feeling than a win in the locker room on a Sunday, boys.” It’s likely but not certain that Daniel Jones (ankle sprain) will be back under center for the Giants for the last two games if he can play, and Manning may not return to football, or to the Giants, in 2020.

 

Paul Schwartz in the New York Post on an uncharacteristic start to the day:

 

This was not a perfect 10.

 

But it was perfect for 10.

 

A day and game that was scripted for one purpose — win for Eli Manning — was kick-started in a most unlikely way when the man himself, usually a Manning of few words, gave his teammates something to consider in the locker room before they took the field Sunday at MetLife Stadium.

 

“What really got us going was his pregame speech,’’ center Jon Halapio said. “He was just fired up, man. Just knowing this might be his last home game starting, collectively we wanted to send him out right. It was easier to do it after he gave us that pregame speech.’’

 

What, pray tell, were the words of wisdom from the venerable Eli?

 

“Last thing he said was, ‘F–k it!’ ’’ Halapio said.

 

Excuse me?

 

“It was damn good,’’ Sterling Shepard said.

 

“It was great,’’ safety Michael Thomas said. “It was one of the rallying cries, for him to break it on that, oh yeah, that set the tone for the day.’’

 

It took a while for Manning’s plea in what almost definitely was his final home start for the Giants to sink in. They trailed 10-7 at halftime but erupted for 29 points in the second half, with Manning doing his thing, looking good, looking shaky, looking like Eli, handing the ball to Saquon Barkley and feeling the love in a 36-20 victory over the Dolphins that Manning and the Giants had to have.

 

 “I don’t know what the future is, I don’t know what lies next week let alone down the road,’’ Manning said. “The support and the fans and their ovation, chanting my name, from the first snap to the end I appreciate that. I appreciate them always.

 

“Special day, special win and one I’ll remember.’’

 

 

WASHINGTON

Urban Meyer showed up at Sunday’s Redskins game, sending D.C. into a tizzy.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Washington is going to be hiring a new head coach pretty soon and an accomplished coach without a current coaching job was at FedEx Field on Sunday.

 

Urban Meyer was spotted in team owner Daniel Snyder’s box along with quarterback Alex Smith, who played for Meyer at Utah and is continuing to recover from last season’s broken leg. One doesn’t need to connect too many dots to wonder if there might have been a conversation about the team’s coaching plans, but Washington wide receiver Terry McLaurin said that wasn’t the reason why Meyer was on hand.

 

McLaurin and quarterback Dwayne Haskins played for Meyer at Ohio State last season and the wideout said he invited the coach to Sunday’s game.

 

“Coach Meyer was here to support me, and Dwayne,” McLaurin said, via the Washington Post. “He was in town. He called me last night and he wanted to come support me at the game. He was my guest. It was good to see him again, good to talk to him. . . . It has nothing to do with his coaching status at all. It was good to just have him support me again.”

 

Meyer’s name has also come up in conjunction with the Cowboys, so his name may be coming up again in the coming weeks.

 

We’re thinking this is a pretty canny way to stir up interest in Dallas.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

TAMPA BAY

Peter King thinks that QB JAMEIS WINSTON is playing his way back to the Buccaneers:

 

The Bucs are suddenly dangerous. They’ve won five of six, averaging 31 points per game in that impressive run, and no matter who they play at wide receiver, Jameis Winston finds a way to hit them. On Sunday in Detroit, he became the first quarterback ever to throw for more than 450 yards in back-to-back games. The only negative is that Winston leads the league in interceptions (24) as well as passing yards (4,573), and he just doesn’t seem to be able to make those stop.

 

“The one thing I have to work on is protecting the football,” Winston told me from Detroit after Tampa’s 38-17 rout of the Lions. He’s right. If I’m Bucs GM Jason Licht, I try to do a bridge deal with Winston—maybe two years near the top of the market—while seeing if coaches Bruce Arians and Byron Leftwich can coach the giveaways out of him. But I don’t let him go. Would you have let a bombs-away Matthew Stafford or Philip Rivers get away after five seasons? “Of course I want to be in Tampa,” he said. “But we’ve got to finish the season first. Whoever makes that decision, I hope it ends up with me staying.”

 

The other issue: With the Bucs 7-7 now, they’re unlikely to have a top-10 draft choice, and unlikely to be in position to take a top-three QB in the 2020 draft. It’s all lining up for Winston to enter a sixth year as Tampa quarterback in 2020, and rightfully so.

 

For those keeping score at home, Winston is averaging 326 yards passing per game which projects to 5,226.  He needs only 214 yards per game in the final two to hit 5,000.

 

There have been 11 5,000-yard seasons in NFL history, 5 by Drew Brees and one each by Dan Marino, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, Ben Roethlisberger and Matthew Stafford.

 

If Winston hits that 5,226 yard projection, it would rank 4th all-time, just a smidge behind Brady’s 5,235 in 2011. 

 

Two more 450-yard games, which he has had the last two weeks, puts him right around Manning’s record of 5,476.

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

WR LARRY FITZGERALD sounds like he’s closer than ever to retirement.  Peter King:

 

In Arizona, after the Cards’ final home game of the year, Fitzgerald, the greatest Cardinal since the franchise moved west in 1987, said Sunday: “Everybody’s replaceable. There’ll be another number 11 here in a couple months after I leave. He might not be as handsome as I am though.” Fitzgerald’s the second-leading receiver in history (180 receptions behind Jerry Rice) and has insisted to me he won’t hang around for the record. He’s been a good security blanket for Kyler Murray, and his 67 catches this year leads the Cardinals at age 36. I’d guess the Giants will want to move on from Manning unless he’d stay for backup money, but I’m not so sure about Fitzgerald yet. I’ve heard the Cardinals would like him back.

 

 

SAN FRANCISCO

Peter King wondered if Kyle Shanahan made the right move in kicking a field goal up by 2 late in Sunday’s loss:

 

Game: Atlanta at San Francisco, Sunday.

 

Situation: Fourth-and-one, San Francisco ball at the Atlanta 25-yard line, with 1:53 left in the fourth quarter. Niners 19, Falcons 17.

 

The decision: Niners coach Kyle Shanahan decided to try a Robbie Gould field goal from 43 yards out rather than try to convert.

 

The thought process: Asked if he considered going for it on fourth down, Shanahan said: “I didn’t. If it would have been inside one [-yard to convert] . . . From what I saw, I thought it was closer to two. I wanted them to go the length of the field to see if they could get a touchdown.”

 

The analytics: PFF numbers say the 49ers had a 64.5 percent chance to convert the fourth down by a run play, and 59.5 percent by throwing. Because Atlanta had only one timeout left, it’s highly likely the 49ers would have run out the clock if they’d converted the fourth down. The previous fourth-quarter runs by San Francisco tailbacks had gained 2, 8, 2 and 4 yards, a factor that may haunt Shanahan.

 

The result: Gould made the 43-yard field goal, giving San Francisco a 22-17 lead with 1:48 to play. (That gave San Francisco a win probability of 84.1 percent.) But the Falcons went 70 yards in 10 plays, winning it on a touchdown pass from Matt Ryan to Julio Jones with two seconds left.

 

So basically, aspiring Hall of Fame QB MATT RYAN had a 16% chance of driving for his 38th career game-winning drive – and he did.

 

 

SEATTLE

The Seahawks are the second team in NFL history to reach double figures in a season for one-score wins.

 

1978 Houston Oilers                10     

2019 Seattle Seahawks           10     

 

Many teams, including the 2018 Cowboys have had nine one-score wins.

 

And five of those games came in the Easter Time Zone with 10 a.m. kickoffs in Seattle (in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Atlanta, Philadelphia (flexed) and now, Carolina.

 

In case you were wondering – the Seahawks are 0-2 at home in 1:25 p.m. kickoffs such as they face Sunday against Arizona (3-0 at home at 1:05).

 

AFC WEST

 

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

In the wake of a home loss before a sea of purple-clad fans, QB PHILIP RIVERS sees his career at a crossroads.  Jeff Miller, informing eager Chargers fans in the LA Times:

 

The Chargers guaranteed they’d fight Sunday despite the circumstances, promised they wouldn’t give away anything to Minnesota.

 

To be fair, they never actually mentioned the football by name.

 

Seven turnovers doomed them in a 39-10 loss that unraveled in a quick and ugly manner immediately after they appeared poised to take the lead just before halftime.

 

The final score marked the most lopsided loss in Anthony Lynn’s three seasons as coach and the franchise’s worst since a 33-3 defeat to Kansas City at Qualcomm Stadium in November 2015.

 

 “I haven’t seen that team all year,” Lynn said. “We’ve gotten beat. We’ve never gotten beat like that. That was my problem today. That’s my frustration right now. I haven’t seen that team in three years since I’ve been here.”

 

This was the Chargers’ first game since being mathematically eliminated from postseason contention. In the previous week, the theme in the locker room had been one of continued commitment, effort and focus.

 

Yet, their sloppiness on offense helped gift the Vikings five possessions that began on the Chargers’ side of midfield. Minnesota scored 20 points off the turnovers.

 

Melvin Gordon lost two fumbles, continuing what has been a flustering season for him, beginning with an ill-fated contract holdout that cost him four games and netted him nothing. Tight end Hunter Henry fumbled once.

 

The other four turnovers — three interceptions and a fumble — belonged to Philip Rivers, the veteran quarterback experiencing another day when he was loose with the ball.

 

He now has been intercepted 18 times — 11 of them coming in the last five games — and lost three fumbles. His single-season career high for interceptions is 21, set in 2016.

 

Lynn, however, said he never considered pulling Rivers in favor of backup Tyrod Taylor.

 

“I didn’t think the quarterback was the reason why we were turning the football over,” he said. “The seven turnovers, that wasn’t on him.”

 

Given that he is unsigned after this season, Rivers acknowledged he could looking at his final weeks as a Charger, though both sides remain interested in extending their relationship at least through 2020.

 

Still, having turned 38 this month and in his 16th season, Rivers did entertain a question afterward about potentially being down to two games with a lightning bolt on his helmet.

 

“I mean, they could be,” he answered. “I don’t necessarily expect that it is or I don’t necessarily think it’s a crazy thought that it will be. I think you just don’t know.”

 

Later, Rivers added: “It’s not solely going to be my decision. That’s where I think that uncertainty lies. We will just kind of have to see. … I think with that uncertainty it does add some emotion.”

 

AFC NORTH

 

CLEVELAND

Was this written before the Browns laid an egg in Arizona? It was.

 

Mary Kay Cabot in the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

 

As the Browns prepare to take on the 3-9-1 Cardinals and try to keep their playoff hopes alive, they appear to be prepared to move forward with Freddie Kitchens for 2020, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.

 

Rapoport reports that the Browns are standing by their first-year head coach, especially considering the Browns have won four of their last five games to improve to 6-7 and still have a chance to make the playoffs.

 

The Browns, with games remaining against the 12-2 Ravens and 1-12 Bengals, have a chance to win out and keep their slim playoff chances alive. Heading into today’s game, they have about a 3.5% chance of making the playoffs, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index.

 

Browns willing to let Joe Schobert walk in free agency

Rapoport states that Browns management wants Kitchens “to continue to have the success necessary to remain in that position for a long time.’’

 

The Browns expect Kitchens to improve in his second season and the get the most out of the team’s talented roster.

 

This from Peter King:

 

• Cleveland losing Sunday assured the Browns will finish the last 10 seasons (2010-19) as the only team without a winning record over that span. The beat goes on.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

Could DE J.J. WATT be back in January?  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Earlier this month, there was a report about “real optimism” in Houston concerning the possibility that defensive end J.J. Watt could return from injured reserve in the postseason.

 

The Texans took a step toward making sure they’ll be in the postseason by beating the Titans on Sunday and head coach Bill O’Brien was asked about Watt’s recovery from a torn pectoral muscle on Monday.

 

“J.J. is working very very hard,” O’Brien said, via Aaron Reiss of TheAthletic.com. “He’s certainly made progress based on his work ethic and who he’s working with in the training room. We will see how it goes.”

 

The Texans pass rush hasn’t been as impressive since Watt got hurt, so the prospect of getting him back for the postseason is a highly appealing one. Whether it is a realistic one will be determined in the next couple of weeks.

 

AFC EAST

 

BUFFALO

Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com on the playoff bound Bills:

 

Here are a number of things that Josh Allen cannot do, or at least not yet.

 

But we know he can run, and he’s showing a certain timeliness, and at the moment, the Bills will take it.

 

The second-year quarterback led the Bills to a 17-10 win over the Steelers, clinching their playoff spot in the process.

 

Allen threw for a touchdown and ran for one, making just enough plays against a Steelers defense that hasn’t allowed many lately.

 

Allen finished the night 13-of-25 passing for 139 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. His accuracy isn’t such that he can carry them conventionally. But taking advantage of a turnover and using his big frame to run in (his ninth rushing touchdown of the year and 17th of his career) has worked.

 

He might lack polish as a passer, and that’s going to keep the margins very small for them. The Bills had scored 274 points in their first 13 games (21.1 per game), but 68 of them came in two games against the Dolphins. Take that out of the equation, and the 18.7 per game is probably a better indication of where they are.

 

That will make it harder for them to succeed against teams that can move the ball more efficiently, but the Bills have now won 10 games the hard way.

 

 

NEW ENGLAND

A suspension in New England.  The Boston Globe:

 

The Patriots have suspended the videographer who filmed the Bengals sideline in Cleveland last week, a league source confirmed to the Globe.

 

The producer/videographer, Dave Mondillo, is a longtime full-time employee of Kraft Sports and Entertainment. He was suspended last week.

 

Some of the video footage aired on Fox Sports’ pregame show less than a half hour before the Patriots kicked off in Cincinnati for a matchup between 10-3 New England and the 1-12 Bengals. The NFL prohibits teams from filming opponents’ sidelines during games. The Patriots admitted their film crew violated NFL rules but claimed the crew was unaware of the rule.

 

The Patriots reportedly could receive a fine in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and the loss of a low-level draft pick when the NFL completes its investigation of the matter.

 

This from Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The producer responsible for taking the video footage of the Bengals sideline for the Patriots during last Sunday’s game released a statement on Sunday.

 

David Mondillo is a supervising producer for Kraft Sports and Entertainment on a project to profile one of the teams pro scouts. In the statement, he said that he took footage of the field in order to convey what the scout sees from the press box and that he stopped shooting immediately when asked to stop filming by Bengals security.

 

“I had no intention to provide footage to football operations, I did not provide any footage, and I was never asked to do so,” Mondillo said in the statement.

 

Video of that exchange with Bengals security was shown on FOX during Sunday’s pregame show. The Boston Globe reported on Sunday that Mondillo has been suspended in light of last week’s actions, which the Patriots have acknowledged as a violation of league policy.

 

UPDATE 11:04 p.m. ET: Mondillo issued this statement on his own, without any involvement from the team. The team didn’t even know the statement was being issued.

 

This in the comments:

 

I work as a video journalist. I shoot b-roll to tell stories. There is no way he would need 7 minutes of a sideline to tell a scout story.

 

If you dont believe me think of how long a cut away scene usually is in sports profile.

 

On the other hand, we’ve always thought that Patriots skullduggery operated in a closely-held circle – and Mondillo over at Kraft Productions, would seem to be outside that circle.

 

This from Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com on Sunday night:

 

It’s entirely possible that the Spygate 2 investigation involving the Patriots will move quickly. However, it still hasn’t started.

 

Per multiple sources, the investigation regarding the events that resulted in a Patriots videographer taping Cincinnati’s sideline last weekend in Cleveland has yet to get rolling. As one source put it, the league office will turn its attention to the matter on Monday and Tuesday.

 

Another source explained that the Patriots have heard little from the league so far, with the NFL simply identifying the persons the league wants to interview and the materials that the Patriots should preserve.

 

One key question clearly will be — especially in light of the statement issued by the team’s video producer on Sunday night — whether and to what extent electronic evidence shows any connection between the video crew and football operations. Patriots coach Bill Belichick loudly has denied any such link. The league must confirm or debunk that claim in order to determine whether the incident was an accident or whether the claim of an accident was cover for intent.

 

Did Belichick “loudly” deny the link?  We don’t know that he’s ever done anything loudly.  But he did do it clearly.

 

Peter King:

 

One club official asked me Sunday: “The NFL has told us that anyone on our sidelines doing anything illegal or wrong—that falls on the head coach. So why doesn’t this fall on Bill Belichick?” It might, though Mark Maske of the Washington Post reports it seems the league is leaning toward a softer punishment of a stiff fine and also a loss of a lower draft choice or reduction in value of a draft choice. That would seem to say the league believes the Patriots when they say video crew had nothing to do with the football-ops side of the building. We’ll see how that goes.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

BROADCAST NEWS

Here is how Peter King sees the Week 17 flex possibilities:

 

• The only way Tennessee can win the AFC South is to sweep its final two games (New Orleans, at Houston) while Houston loses to the Bucs and Titans. Not likely.

 

• Can’t imagine there’d be a better game 256 (the Sunday-nighter in Week 17) than Niners-Seahawks at Century Link if the winner gets a bye in the NFC playoffs and the loser is the fifth or sixth seed. I’d guess the only way that gets trumped is a Tennessee-Houston AFC South Championship Game.

 

We’re not so sure of the “not likely” dismissal of Tennessee and the AFC South.

 

The way Tampa Bay is playing, we think the Buccaneers are 50-50 to win Saturday against Houston.  Tennessee at home against the Saints is another coin flip.  So we think there is a 25% chance that Tennessee at Houston is for the division. 

 

If you think the home teams are 40% winners, that reduces it to 16%.

 

Not sure why King adds Houston losing to “and Titans.”  That’s already a given in the Tennessee sweep.  So just three steps for Tennessee, not the four that King’s choice of words implies.